Photo from Phil Romans' Flickr page.
It was a day scraped from the bottom of the barrel of hot August days, gritty and lazy. I decided to beat the malaise by taking a walk down to a nearby lake, dribbling along in the water for a while, and having a snack of peaches after I was done.
I haven't had too many good peaches lately. Most have been so bad that they're almost bitter, and when I've chanced on a good peach, it's never been delicious, only edible - which is a change, certainly, but nothing to jump up and down and scream about. But that day, in the last of the August heat, I knew that I was going to have a good peach. I had to - everything else was perfect, so I was going to have a good peach.
On my way to the lake I saw a homeless man standing in the middle of the street holding a cardboard sign up to passing drivers. I turned away and didn't bother to read what the sign said. It was hot out,r andin the middle of the busy street your atmosphere was a thick soup of charred exhaust fumes and mingling with the ozone of rush-hour-angry traffic. The man had a modern prosthetic leg and an overgrown soul-tash. He looked like he could have stumbled out the back door of any college dorm or frat house, ready to make an inappropriate joke about a girl's breasts or sing along to a 311 song desperately out of tune, but then had a couple too many pitchers and somehow gotten lost for a couple days and fallen on some hard times. But here he was, missing a leg, begging on the street. They must have been some hard time.
I usually don't give anything to homeless people for a simple reason: I'm so poor myself I never have spare change. But something about this guy touched me. I had to give him something. So I handed him a peach. He smiled, revealing decayed stumps of teeth.
And then after my swim, when I was laid out on my bath-towel, a good book cracked open across my bare chest, mottled sunlight falling on me - in as picturesque position you could hope for, is what I'm saying - I took a bite of my eighty-first peach. It was another disappointment: chalky, and so bitter it almost made me pucker. I spat the rest of it out into the trash can and didn't bother to even try to eat the rest of the peach. But then, as I was settling back on my towel to peer through another chapter or two, I realized: that homeless guy probably doesn't have the luxury of spitting out his bad peaches. Which is sad. It's sad if life makes you eat a bad peach.
Last night I devoured a burrito at a bus-stop on my way to say goodbye to a friend who's moving country today. A couple minutes after the burrito had been masticated and deposited in my stomach I realized that I hadn't spent the time to actually taste it. I lingered, then, over my memory of that burrito - I recognized that the salsa had an overpowering oniony taste to it, that the flour tortilla was too soft, I felt the chicken against my palate again, sweet and soft - I tasted the burrito again, but really tasted it, and it felt like I was tasting it for the first time.
There can be so much beauty in eating. But when we're so poor that we survive only on cans of tuna or animal crackers, eating can be a flat annoyance, on the same level as a bad cough that creeps up on you when you're not thinking about it. So I think it is one of the better comforts in life to be able to be picky about your food, to be able to savor it, love it, and when the time comes - to spit it out if it sucks.